Aceh has a distinct culture and history, and the culture of coffee farming expresses this…
The standard “History of Coffee in
” goes something like this. The Dutch sent coffee seeds to their colony in Batavia from Indonesia USDA is (obviously) the United States Department of Agriculture. USDA also had coffee plant breeding programs in the past and one variety they distributed to Indonesia and was widely planted is called USDA (sounds like More in the late 17th century, but it wasn’t until the coffee blight (leaf fungus) of the 1880s that they started planting it beyond the plantations of India S-795 is a variety based on the " S-Line" coffees of India, and stands for Selection 795, It has a very fine cup, one of the best in Indonesia, but is not a high volume More . So Java There are several types of Abyssinia, but they are not from Ethiopia but rather Indonesia. Abyssinia 3 = AB3. PJS Cramer, a Dutch plant researcher, introduced this variety in 1928, supposedly from Ethiopia seed stock. It was More did not have any coffee planted until the late 1880s when Sumatra Indonesians are available as a unique wet-hulled or dry-hulled (washed) coffees. Giling Basah is the name for the wet-hulling process in Bahasa language, and will have more body and often more of the "character" that More seeds were planted in the cultural area of the Batak Mandailing, North Sumatra. arabica Arabica refers to Coffea Arabica, the taxonomic species name of the genus responsible for around 75% of the worlds commercial coffee crop.: Arabica refers to Coffea Arabica, the taxonomic species name of the genus responsible More
The spread of coffee is not often considered in relation to the brutal
War of 1873-1904, although the brutality of the would-be colonizers, the Dutch, and the resistance movement existed before and well-after those years. The Dutch colony was near bankrupt funding their attempts, military and otherwise, to take Aceh under their rule, to consolidate their territory while warding off the British and French. Aceh The northernmost district in SumatraL Aceh District is north of North Sumatra and produces some very classic Sumatra coffees. The center of coffee in Aceh is Lake Tawar and Takengon, the city by the lake. More
Aceh was rich in natural resources, namely a hugely valuable crop in black pepper. Coffee also filled the coffers of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and funded colonial domination, so bringing it to the less volatile Mandailing Batak area was a safe move.
But it was not a benevolent act. Coffee farming was enforced as a way for the colonized to pay their colonizers: their crop was delivered to the Dutch as a tax. And that funded the war against the Acehnese, the scorched-earth tactics of the Dutch including wholesale slaughter of villages, of noncombatants, of women and children.
I realize that’s a grim introduction to a travelogue about the joys of Aceh, and the wonderful coffee that can be found there. But I guess I feel it’s important to make note of the historical basis for the coffee crop in Sumatra, and recall that the history of coffee in not always pretty. Yes, we can still enjoy our coffee … but maybe with some context we will have a better conversation while doing so.
people are two distinct cultural and lingusitic groups living in the Aceh. In general the coffee was farmed by the highland Gayo people, while Aceh people were a more coastal group, traders and merchants. Gayo Gayo is ethnic group from the area of Aceh Sumatra around Lake Takengon. They use the name Gayo Coffee to market their production. The Acehnese are a different ethnic group, more centered in the lower More -Thompson Generally coffee is not planted too close, but the type of pruning can maske a dense wall of coffee shrubs in Aceh. Bener Merieh area. We visit first with Rafi of Utamagro Coop in Bener Merieh, where they are hand-sorting a lot for Australia. There are different names for coffee in Indonesia at different process stages. On the right is Labu (which means pumpkin), coffee that is wet and white because it was just wet-hulled. Asalan is dried coffee, more green color, but not yet sorted. Next stop at cafe for espresso and jam with the owner! This is a prime example of the new Roastery Cafe scene in even the smaller towns of Indonesia, with coffee farms just out the front door. They are growing the coffee they roast within their own extended family, or from neighbors. This is in a town of maybe 15-20 shops, along a road to Takengon town. Aceh is the autonomous part of Sumatra where we are, and Gayo are the people from the mountains. They are distinct cultures and languages. While we are in a Gayo area it is mixed … this amazing meal is Acehnese. Lunch is the main meal of the day – and the best! The coffee comes from the community, and even the roaster is local… the machine! Good roasters are being made in Bali, Jakarta, and Surabaya. After a super lunch of lake Tawar fish, we stop by a mill preparing a lot for Australia export by Daniel. The gravity sorter is really THE most important single piece of equipment in the milling, but this lot is hand-picked after,. Wet-hulling is called Gilig Basah in bahasa language, and there is a trick to get a nice smoothj appearance, which is hull the coffee when it is still warm from the drying patio, and at a higher moisture, like this lot. It risks breaking the coffee though, We head off on scooters to meet Pak Aulia, who has supplied us with wet-hulled and honey-process coffee from his area. Aulia is a collector and a farmer, part of a community of younger coffee people in Takengon Pak Aulia shows some of the Timor hybrid coffee common to Aceh, called TimTim here and in other growing areas. There are multiple types of Timor Hybrid cultivar. This farm has a lot of longberry coffee (TimTim also can have an elongated bean though). This is called Rambung or Abyssinia 7 . While it has a long form, any direct relation to Ethiopian coffee or old cultivars is not clear, and rather unlikley. TimTim looks similar in many ways to the Abyssinia types (there is also Abyssinia 3). The leaf is broader generally and it has a different nodal structure; Boith have bronze color new leaf. While Sumatra has few distinctr wet and dry periods (June-July is dryest in Aceh), this year was especially extreme while the cherry was developing. The result was damage to cherry and bean, especially with the Ateng variety like this cherry. You can see why I have decided to call this “hot dog coffee”. Incredibly elongated bean form. We visit a different farmer block to see the difference between Tim Tim and Abyssinia 3 varoety. AB-3 is more elongated and larger generally than AB-7 or TimTim, though I would point out you can find roundish beans on an AB-3 tree and long ones on a TimTim plant. These 4 TimTim cherries are quite small If any place needs indoor drying, protected from the frequent rains, it’s Indonesia and Aceh. I took a lot of photos this trip of covered drying structures, sometimes called parabolic dryer for the shape. This one, new and basically built from a kit bought in the capital Medan. I have to respect a person who lovingly restores a classic and beautiful Toyota Land Cruiser like this. 40 series? You don’t see many in Aceh but likely nothing could stop this beast… Next day we are visiting with Pak Irham, a well-establihsed and respected coffee supplier from Aceh. His daughter Ina manages all the export from Medan. Here their drying patio neat Takengon town. I have been here a couple times before I realize – once even back 12 years ago! Ina and Pak Irham take usa to their new plantings of “improved varieties” of coffee, ie those with good production and resistence to leaf fungus. Komasti is one of the newer types to come from ICRI research center. I have not cupped it yet, but supposed to be a better cup than other hybrids, or straight TimTim. Pak Irham points out some beautiful old Line-S trees next to the Komasti plot. These have a nice cup quality, but don’t produce so well, so not great from the farmers perspective. S-Line is also S-795, with origins in India. I find later it actually has Liberica genetics in its hybrization, which suprises me since the cup is generally nice. Detail of the fine pointed leaves of this variety. As with other older plants here, I see small leaves, a dwarfism that occurs over time as the tree ages it seems. We stop for snacks as Ina feels there will be a larger farmer group when we get toward the area they work in, and they will all want food! The shop is also processing coffee picked the day before. Here a typical pulper. In the wet-hulled trading system, the farmer picks, pulps and ferments the coffee in a bucket, usually just for one day fermentation period. They then wash it a bit in the bucket …. Drying is usually on a tarp, a small patio, or a driveway. It’s often done on the road too, making driving ariund it a bit tight. They coffee is then traded to a collector before fully drying, often at 40% + moisutre level. The collector takes over the drying from there, as well as the wet hulling (or if they dry down to 11-12%, dry hulling) We visit Sukono’s plot, who is a coop leader that delivers coffee to Irham. He basically spends the whole visit to his farm working, cleaning off the small shoots that emerge from the toip of the tree, to keep it in the low shape they prefer here. The umbrella cut stunts the tree heigh but also opens up a leafless bald spot in the top. This allows light and air to permeate the plant, and lessens the impact of fungus. But as the tree age, it becomes like this tree … that is, old age balding pattern Sukono actually uses a brush to remove the small suckers growing from the top to maintain the open “umbrella” center. Ina is the dynamo behind the Irham IKA brand, coordinating samples, shipment and consolidations from Medan, whilke Pak Irham maintains the business among the farmers and traders in Takengon. At Sukono farm, it doesnt take much to see how the maturation of fruit comes over a longer time, as even one branch has unripe coffee cherry in many states of growth. Group photo of the farmers – biut while I was taking this a rascally gang of Ducks and Chickens ran off with the Roti we brough (donuts, basically). It’s pretty funny to see a duck with a donut in its beak running off into the coffee trees. quack . That’s how they roll in Gayo land, minimalist old Honda single that he bump starts . Daniel in the backdrop. Brewing some of his recent wet-process coffee for us. This area has nice coffee cherry but prices are higher than other parts of Aceh We stop for lunch of Mie Aceh (noodles) and, of course, dog photo. Pak Asman has several greenhouses for drying coffee, and more in the middle of being constructed. Amazingly, he is doing the entire process in a combination washer-dryer, set on low agitation. Ok just kidding… his fermented coffees are left for a long time thriough 2 cycles and then a soak, totaling 36 hours. The climate at his site is cooler so this long cycle is needed. Naturals are ideal in covered drying, as they would take 30+ days to dry on a patio. The covered drying traps a lot of warmth, even on an overcast day with scattered rain clouds Pak Hendra.is well known in the Indo coffee scene and is very popular among Jakarta roasters. Baristas will come to his facility and hand-prepare thier own lots for competitions. We bought washed coffee from Hendra many years ago, but did not know he was actually the supplier! The intermideary wouldn’t tell us who was sourcing our coffee. But now we meet! Hendra has many drying houses, some with raised beds and some with patio drying. His naturals take 14-20 days to dry, and these honey coffees take about 12-14 I understand. Under the drying bed, his kitten sleeps in the warmth. If I heard right, her name is Ateng, which is a coffee variety in Indonesia Hendra uses a Quest M300 for sample roasting … dinosaurs are optional A friend keeps his Vespa out front at the Hendra office. Like me – too many projects and not enough time. He set up a cupping of his various processes for coffee, which are numerous. He does different in-the-cherry fermentations, fully washed coffee, honeys and naturals, as well as “hydro-wash” which is like a mini-carbonic process. The Hydro Honey was my favorite. Amazed to see this giant horned beetle just hanging around outside the cupping room. I though someone had put in there – how could it have climbed there and latched onto this bit of string? But no it had simply landed there and wasn’t moving. At about 4 + inches long it is the largest living beetle I have ever seen … and quite slow and gentle. But I didn’t pet it or nothing … well ok just a little… Between cuppings, playing with the giant flash I brought, and trying to get Ateng to play with a string too. It’s time in this travelogue for another Dog of Coffee moment, at Hendras drying patio. The farms have a lot of these large spiders. I am sure they are harmless. Actually I am not sure. I just don’t want to run into them! USDA (called OOH-STA!) was brought by USDA for planting in the 1960s with origin in Ethiopia. The usual one found is 762, but this is an older selection of USDA, called 731 We drink natural USDA as a separate variety but with the process flavor of natural, I find it hard to distinguish variety characteristics. Ateng is a super poser, so the parting shot from Hendras is of course, some serious cat glamour. Some night time images of shops in Takengon town with flash, because I thought they looked interesting and a little otherworldly. Some night time images of shops in Takengon town with flash, because I thought they looked interesting and a little otherworldly. Some night time images of shops in Takengon town with flash, because I thought they looked interesting and a little otherworldly. Next day we traveled out the the 3rd district of Aceh with coffee, Gayo Lues Regency. At our first visit, I liked this “Ducati” rice cultivator so the owner wanted his picture sitting in it. Done. We met up with Rahman, who used to work with a large coop in Takengon but now is starting his own thing as a coffee collector in the Lues area of Pantan Cuaca. Actually he doesnt have a roasting machine yet but hey, it’s just in the concept phase. The huller at their place is 2 years old, and locally made. These need to generate a lot of friction to remove the parchment layer … much more than a standard huller for coffee dried to 11%, as it is in the rest of the coffee world for wet-process coffee. Here is their new huller – because the bean isn’t fully dried, the parchment layer has no real gap between it and the bean. So that takes much more force to remove. The huller is much longer than one for dried coffee, which is how it generates more friction. And this is what they need to power it! a 6 cylinder mitsubishi diesel truck motor. It’s the works, with a transmission and no clutch. You shift it into gear with the lever and voom – coffee starts hulling… Ahmed Ali, Rahman and Sahdi share the processing space for Pantan Cuaca coffee. Gayo Lues coffees aren’t the highest elevation in Aceh, but we have really liked our Lues Cike and see potential for nice wet-hulled coffee here. We meet up with Danny Piatschek who is likely the most knowledgable and experienced person on earth about Gayo coffee. We head out to a farmer Pak Baki. He is head of local coop Prima Gayo. On the way, the daughter of a coffee farmer was playing on the scooter and making faces in the mirror as we passed by. Cute! Pak Baki has an amazing farm under a nice canopy of shade trees. All his coffee are varieties of “longberry” but what they are specifically I wasn’t sure. There seemed to be Abyssinia 7, TimTim, and perhaps some Abysinnia 3 too. Here, the classic Umbrella pruning. Across the way we see a patch of lemon grass being cultivated. In fact it is everywhere in Lues, and a more major crop than coffee. There is a nearby factory to process it into an essential oil. At night we get back to Takengon. Lues is aboiut 3 hours more or less, on a very windy road. Takengon has a lively food cart scene … well… every town in Aceh and beyond has one! Sate in Aceh is special. They call it Sate Matang and its very nice. This sate was goat and quite good, but maybe not the best of the trip. I love these carts – he wanted his piture in front of his, which has rice and duck. This cart was definitely my favorite. These are set up off the street in a special area for night time food and amusement And for the kiddies … some pretty funny rides, as you can find in small parks or at events in Sumatra. Yeah, I know people like to see the creepiness, but is this stranger than seeing 6 year olds playing games on smart phones? really? I will admit, nobody seemed to be bringing the kiddos out for the rides while we were there. Chalk one up to the smart phones, again. … or a nightmare. Hotel art in Aceh can be very interesting, if not a little haunting. I like it! Edgar Allen Poe! Just behind our hotel, a metal forge where they are making farm tools. No its not some “artisan” place, its just how they do it still. Aceh and the Amish! Their business is a bit cooperative with local farmers and collectors: the community comes to dry their coffee here, and share the processing space, and then Degayo buys the coffee and completes the processing. We meet up with Darwin and Francesco of Degayo Coffee. Darwin is from here, Francesco is Dutch but has come here since the 1980s, and now they work sourcing coffee for their Kuala Lumpur cafe and other roasters in Malaysia and Thailand. We head out for lunch at the best Acehnese food place in town and it is really spectacular. Like padang food, you take many small plates and then they total up what you ate to charge you afterwards, just by looking at the detritus on your table! We had about 8-10 different dishes and all were pretty damn specatcular. Even the ocean fish / tuna is fresh here, driven up from the coast a few hours away. If a restaurant in Aceh has decor like this, you know you’re in for something special. Then again, they all have something like this… hmmm Around Takengon, some pretty amazing vehicles. Nobody abandons a car until it basically is just a heap of body filler. Zoom in to appreciate the “chocolate frosting” texture here. Many cool vans here, mostly Suzuki like this little Carry model, and a lot of Mitsubishi colts and such. Not som many Toyota. I’m a little obsessed with vans… Would you get your haircut here? I would for sure! And likely for under $2 too We stopped at a cafe of Darwins’ friend. Used to be there was a single roaster in a town and it was a big deal to see fresh coffee served. Now there are countless roasters in Takengon and everywhere, very exciting to see this shift But you can’t completely get away from “First Wave” coffee ha ha. In fact this reminds me of the old jars in Tomoca cafe in Addis Ababa. You know what I mean? Sure you do! Ok – this one is a bit out there, reminding me of the Japanese character Kappa, the kinda frog-like spirit of water. You, family, friends, kids and infants. It’s a good thing these people can generally thread a scooter through the eye of a needle… they know how to do stuff like this… It’s not like parts of SE Asia, but the old Vespas are still here, loved, cherished and used daily like its no big thing. Next morning is our big cupping for all the samples we collected. It’s a friend of Pak Aulia, but I am not really sure it has one owner. It seems more like a collective. We separate the cleaner coffees from the more rustic so we are not cupping them together, which is definitely too much when trying to taste the funky Winey process, and other wild coffees. Danny comes by, like a said, a true guru of Aceh and gayo coffee with a long history going back the Holland Coffee joint venture wet mill with the Aceh government. He was the manager of the wet mill, and still believes the best quality comes from centralizing and standardizing the cherry processing. It definitely is the best way to control quality The daughter of the roaster here was so funny and cute, a mixture of amusement and maybe a little suspicion of whatever the heck we were doing! How many cafes have you been to where they bring coffee cherry in through the front and process it in the back, and roast / brew the coffee in the middle? They do it all here. This Winey process is stored in sealed bags to ferment coffee before pulping. I don’t love it, but respect the fact that they do, and get great prices for it from local roasters! A great cupping that day of early season coffees. Actually the quality was quite remarkable given they were the first pickings for this November-Feb harvest cycle. A closeup of the cherry in sealed bags. While this “breaks the rules” for how many other origins process coffee (you are always supposed to pulp the seed out of the fruit when fresh, same day as picking) … they are going for something quite different here. A very fruity/fermenty taste in the cup. After cupping we head out with Danny Piatschek to see a couple new mills, larger operations. This nice greenhouse is froma Jakarta guy who wants to do quality coffee en masse. I know him only as Alex, because he wasnt around. Likely hes out investing somewhere. We head over to the more exciting project of Wawan, who has lived in Aceh with his wife and form a dynamic team with big plans for quality site here. There mill was impressive! But it was under construction. So I took a picture of their dog, who probably wasnt even their dog but just wandered in and sat down. Friendly guy tho! And with all that nasty terrible work out of the way, time to go surfing and snorkling in Banda Aceh area, and Weh Island! I am so amazed by the beauty here (above and below the water line). Aceh is a wonderful place, from the coffee in the mountains to the wonders of the coast. I can’t wait to return again.